Does Connecticut Need Tolls?

April 25, 2019

There is no disagreement that many of our roads and bridges, as well as our entire transportation system, are in disrepair and outdated.

Upgrading our aging transportation infrastructure is critical to our future economy, and a longstanding top priority of our business community.

Our challenge is that the state’s Special Transportation Fund will run out of money in just five years. So, how do we pay for these necessary improvements when both gasoline tax revenue and federal funding is in decline, and DOT estimates an additional $800 million per year is needed to maintain our infrastructure.

There are basically three options:

  • Drastically raise the gasoline tax by at least 54 cents per gallon. It is currently 25 cents per gallon, reduced from 39 cents 20 years ago and has remained unchanged since then. This option would be paid for predominantly by Connecticut drivers.
  • Put the entire tab on the state’s credit card as Republicans have proposed. Every $800 million added to our long term debt will cost $1.2 billion with interest, and, Connecticut taxpayers will pay 100% of the bill.
  • Implement a modern electronic toll system like every other state along the eastern seaboard has done. With 30-40% of highway traffic from out of state, combined with CT driver discounts via EZPass and commuter cards, about 40% of the total cost will be picked up by out of state drivers.

This isn’t simply about whether someone wants tolls or is against them. This is about what is the best way to fix our aging and outdated transportation infrastructure. In other words, what is the most sustainable plan and fairest to taxpayers.

A recent editorial in The Day encourages us to push past Republican political posturing and adopt a toll plan.

The Republican plan will increase borrowing by $700 million per year. Their borrowing proposal, plain and simple, will result in an income tax increase. In addition, their credit-card borrowing would cause our bond rating to plummet, making every transportation project more expensive to finance.

Here is what is on the table for tolls:

  • 40% of the revenue from tolls will be paid by out-of-state drivers
  • Toll gantries on I-84, I-95, I-91 and the Merritt Pkwy
  • Gantries will be located every 6-7 miles and frequent commuters and CT residents will get discounts
  • Tolls will be less than 5 cents-per-mile
  • No more than 50 gantries in total
  • Revenues from tolls will be exclusively used on transportation projects

Under a toll system, an $800 million investment in our infrastructure would cost Connecticut drivers less than $500 million, far less than the $1.2 billion state taxpayers would pay under the Republican borrowing scheme. This is one of the reasons the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and many business leaders support tolls to fund our growing infrastructure needs.

Some question whether all the money raised from tolls would actually go to transportation. Keep in mind that not only did voters overwhelmingly approve a “Transportation Funding Lockbox” last November, but Federal law requires all toll revenue to go to roads.

I believe it isn’t fair to Connecticut taxpayers that we provide a freeway to the large amount of out-of-state traffic that passes through here, while all of us pay every time we cross into surrounding states.

I also believe a modern toll system will allow us to better connect our economic hubs, improve our road and mass transit infrastructure, help attract new businesses, and create thousands of good paying construction jobs throughout our state.

It’s time to stop the scare tactics. The plan we are considering today is realistic and doesn’t place the burden solely on Connecticut taxpayers.

Let’s continue to have our conversations, but let’s agree to do what is right in order to keep Connecticut growing and moving in the right direction.